I have been a personal and professional coach for years, but nobody has ever asked for help to improve their listening skills. Why? Because it seems like it should be easy. Good listening is a toddler-level skill, right? Wrong.
Good listening is at the core of every communication skill.
Every face-to-face interaction with your boss, co-workers, or even family members hinges on listening. It’s impossible to remember important things when you haven’t heard them in the first place!
Here are some easy behavior changes to make you a better listener:
Monitor your body language. No matter how tense the topic of conversation, try to relax. Take stock of the other person’s body language and mimic it. Now I don’t mean the Lucille Ball / Groucho Marx type of mimic, but something more organic. If the other person has his or her hands clasped, do the same. If they have ankles crossed, do the same. Lean in just a bit. That simple action will signal your brain that something noteworthy is going on. Also work on eye contact. Okay, not the creepy stare-down, but make some real eye contact at regular intervals during the conversation.
Skip the technology. Put down the phone or laptop once in a while and walk over to talk to your co-worker in person. Sure, it’s nice to have a written record of a conversation by using email, but many problems happen because someone misinterprets a tone of voice or misses some sarcasm. Also, if the email has more than three sentences we tend to skip the fine details.
Repeat and confirm. Nod and make some sort of sound that indicates you are listening (a grunt or uh-huh, whatever works for you). When the person is done making a point, repeat what you heard and confirm what they expect of you, if anything. If it’s not appropriate to grunt or reply, try repeating the main points in your head or even take some notes. Be careful here, though, not to get so distracted with what was just said that you don’t hear what is being said at the moment.
Listen like you will be tested. If you are called into a meeting with your boss for your annual review, you will hang on every word, right? The regular daily meetings probably don’t capture your full attention, but they should. We never know when something crucial is going to be communicated. Go into every conversation as if you will be tested over what is said, and your listening skills will soar.
So try these simple behavior modifications today and see if you don’t create better relationships at home and at work.
(Dr. Susan Harrison is author of A Delightfully Short Stress Relief Guide for the Busiest Women, available in ebook or print formats.)